Phyllis Magidson, Costume Curator of The Museum Of The City Of New York, fairly points out that designers have always drawn from the past for inspiration, whether they're Ralph Lauren using cuts from the 1890s in his "Prairie Collection" (ughremember that?), or Christian Dior deriving his "New Look" of 1947 (a nipped-in waist and very full skirt) from the 1700s. She continues, "The nice thing is that you don't even have to draft a pattern. The person who originally made the garment decided that the lapel falls wonderfully on this particular bias...and all you've got to do is lay it on a piece of pattern paper and simply mimic the already draped line of the collar." Magidson defends this seemingly blatant thievery by noting, "Certainly the wisest people are the ones who acknowledge the fact that there have been some extremely talented forces in the past." She adds, "It's like colorforms, because in spite of the fact that some of the elements have already been done, the ultimate combination of them has not been done...so there's still an awful lot of creative interpretation involved."
Laura Wills, owner of the vintage clothing store Screaming Mimi's, echoes this sentiment, saying, "I thought bell-bottoms came and went, but now you see all the street kids and skateboarders wearing them, and they've become bigger than ever, but it's in a totally different context. It's the way they're translating that style, wearing, like, old men's double-knit polyester pants, but real low and big, and it looks great." Wills presents all the clothing in her store as current fashions, noting, "a lot of customers are seeing them for the first time. They see Todd Oldham doing a beautiful photo-print shirt, and then they can have the original." FYI, Wills is starting to buy '80s clothing. She remarks, "In the year 2000, '90s clothing will be retro." What a long strange trip it still is, and where do we get off? Given the exponentially accelerating cooptation of all things "alternative," we'll soon be shedding identities as fast as we acquire them. Maybe the trick is to enjoy the ride, don't believe the hypeand oh yeah, never let 'em see you sweat. Maybe we just need to find that killer outfit for 1999. Or maybe, as the millenium draws nigh, we humans are simply experiencing the growing pains of a community on the brink of global consciousness. Now that smells like nirvana.
In the closet and happy to be there:
"Leopard" Fur Jacket, circa 1955: Blondes, Booze & Booty Leopard has been the eternal symbol of the "sex kitten" and the wild made tame (temporarily, of course) ever since Jayne Mansfield wore her trademark leopard print bikini. Today one finds the traditionally "bad girl" leopard jacket on the glammest of rockers to the most conservative of housewives, who calls it a "fun fur" and hangs it next to her mink. It also serves double duty as a favorite with the senior set, who are clearly wearing vintage originals. These stylin' grandmas were probably teenagers when interior designer Elsie DeWolfe made leopard skin a must for the avante garde. Whatever the case, no other pattern has had such longevity. And as long as humans strive to bring out the animal in themselves or another, they'll seek the visceral thrill of this furry and dangerous fabric.
Patron Saint: Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle
Image Makers: Jayne Mansfield, Bettie Page, Bunny Yeager, Mamie Van Doren
Soundtrack: Elvis, Little Richard, Louis Prima, Eartha Kitt, Julie London
Screen: "The Wild One," "The Girl Can't Help It"
Drug Of Choice: Martini
Soundtrack '96: The Cramps, The Las Vegas Grind, El Vez, Brian Setzer
Runway '96: Valentino, Gianni Versace, Todd Oldham
Last Seen: On Alabama (Patricia Arquette) in "True Romance"
Greater Las Vegas Church of Elvis:
Elvis Spotters Page
True Romance Home Page